All Safaris Are (Not) Created Equal

Writing from 18.856° S, 16.329° E

Note: This post is chock-full of opinions. Please see your personal travel professional to make your own informed decisions (aka Google — she’s great, you’ll love her.)

I am by no means a safari expert. There are people who spend countless vacations on long-term safaris and end up being as knowledgable as the guides. That will never be me, as I can only sit still in a car for so long.

Don’t get me wrong, safaris are awesome. They are one of the only ways to see wildlife in Africa up-close and personal, in their natural habitat, with conservation measures in place to ensure you are not disrupting their environment. If you care about experiencing the world’s wildlife in a sustainable way (as we all should — look what happened to the northern white rhino population last month) then skip the zoo and head to Africa. You won’t regret it.

 

As I write this, I have just finished up my fourth safari since arriving on the continent last September. It was by far the least eventful of the four, and just goes to show that safaris — like the wild — are completely unpredictable and different every day.

It’s a great lesson in going with the flow and being happy with whatever the world throws at you.

So, as I wrap up my time here in beautiful Africa, here are some highlights from my four trips to the bush.

 

 

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Safari #1: Tanzania — Ngorongoro Crater & Tarangire National Park

My first safari was my favorite of the four, and I think I know why:

The first time you see these animals in the wild, it’s completely mind-blowing.

You can’t believe they really exist out here — hunting and mating and living — and that no part of it is created by humans.

We freaked out for hours on end, screaming (quietly) every time we saw another elephant or gazelle or giraffe. We weren’t taking anything for granted yet at this point, so the energy level was off the charts in our car.

 

It helps that these national parks were two of my favorites landscape-wise, so even without the wildlife, the views would have made the trip worth it.

If you’d like to read more about my first safari, check out my post here.

 

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Safari #2: Tanzania — Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater

External factors beyond your control seems to be a theme here, and my second safari was no exception. I went on this tour with my brother Alex (visiting from the States) and two friends from my volunteer program in TZ.

Alex and I were both feeling sick for most of the safari, so that put a big damper on the experience. On top of that, this safari brought us a few really exciting sightings (like the pride of lions above) but had lots of time in between.

I know now that this is fairly typical of most safaris, but my first one had been so jam-packed that I was a little disappointed.

That being said, the Serengeti is beyond impressive. It’s easy to see why the setting for the movie Lion King was based here — it’s disorienting in its vastness. The plains stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction, with very few trees or altitude changes to break up the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like it.

 

This was also my second time back at Ngorongoro Crater, and as I’ve mentioned before it is now one of my favorite places on earth.

It feels like driving around in a giant bowl with hoards of wild animals casually strolling up to your car to hang out for a while.

Ngorongoro is where I had countless up-close interactions with lions. It’s where I saw my first elephant and almost cried. It’s where I almost ran into a giant, terrifying water buffalo while camping on the rim.

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The bonus here is that the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are connected, so if you only get to do one park in TZ, this should be it. Need help planning? Check this out.

 

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Safari #3: South Africa — Kruger National Park

Kruger is probably one of the most famous parks in all of Africa. Similarly to the safari + beach vacation that tourists seek in Tanzania (by stopping in Zanzibar after their tour), many people combine a safari in Kruger (located about 5 hours north of Johannesburg) with a stop in the gorgeous city of Cape Town.

I went to Kruger at the end of my family’s visit to South Africa, after spending three weeks exploring the Mother City. This tour was vastly different from my first two for a few main reasons:

  1. The accommodation. We chose a mid-range safari, so rather than budget camping grounds, we stayed in the beautiful Tremisana Lodge and Marc’s Treehouse Lodge, both featuring a pool, restaurant, and bar.
  2. The landscape. Kruger is lush and green (especially with all the rain they had received in the week leading up to our safari), but the bush is thick and makes it tricky to spot animals unless they’re right next to your car or crossing the road in front of you.

 

Kruger was lovely, but my memory have been slightly tainted by the terrible stomach bug I caught at the end of it. The Lauren-getting-sick saga continues!

 

 

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Safari #4: Namibia — Etosha National Park

My last safari was actually the beginning of my overland tour with Acacia Adventure Holidays. If you aren’t familiar with the idea of overlands, they’re a great way of seeing Africa without the hassle. You travel with a small group on a big bus/truck with seats, tables, lockers, and everything else you could need. On my tour (which I’m in the middle of as I write this), we are traveling around Namibia and the Western Cape of South Africa, doing most of our driving in the mornings, sightseeing at each stop, and camping at night. More posts to come on this later!

The first two days of my 11-day overland tour were spent in Etosha National Park, a beautiful area about four hours north of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

This trip continued the trend of accommodation in Southern Africa being a bit higher quality than with East Africa, but this may have simply been luck (or another example of most countries down here being more developed).

 

As for the park, we unfortunately had a mostly animal-free day. The landscape is beautiful (very green like Kruger), but the wildlife seemed to be hiding during our safari. However, we did have some very exciting sightings of lions, giraffes, and — best of all — a black rhino (picture above courtesy of my friend Alex Read!). This was the first rhino I’ve seen close up, and it was majestic.

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Looking back on my time in Africa down the line, I’m sure these safaris will be some of my most memorable experiences. They’re unpredictable, inconsistent, and the perfect escape to nature.

Pictures are great and zoos are alright, but you’ve got to see it to believe it.

 

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Have you ever been on safari? What was your favorite park?

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